An exercise designed to test the Air Force, Navy, and Marines’ ability to fly and fight together has yielded a rare and remarkable moment: All five fighter jets currently flown by the services flying in formation, possibly for the first time.
The video was taken during this month’s Orange Flag, a sister exercise to the famous Red Flag:
A fact that people know, but probably don’t spend much time pondering, is that the U.S. military actually has three different air forces. The U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Marine Corps all maintain large fleets of high-performance fighters. Each of those three fleets is daunting on its own, and larger than the entire air forces of many of America’s allies.
Aircraft from all three groups got together in the deserts over California and Nevada for Orange Flag, an exercise designed to test the services’ ability to cooperate. In wartime, aircraft from all three might get together to fly and fight on the same mission, making it vital they’re all on the same page beforehand.
For example, a single coordinated mission against a modern, hostile air force could see U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors providing air superiority, while F-16 Fighting Falcons and U.S. Navy Growler electronic attack planes suppress enemy ground–air defenses. Meanwhile, Marine Corps F-35Bs could form the attack force to destroy the primary target. Having all these forces work together is like having three different professional baseball teams, each with their own hand signals, come together for a life-or-death game against another team.
Planes that participated in the exercise were fitted with data-recording gear so analysts could view mission data at a later date and figure out how to streamline these joint operations. The planes involved included U.S. Air Force F-35As, F-22 Raptors, F-15C Eagles, F-15E Strike Eagles, and F-16 Fighting Falcons, while the U.S. Navy sent F-18E Super Hornets, F-18G Growlers, and E-2C Hawkeyes. The U.S. Marine Corps was represented by the vertical takeoff and landing version of the F-35, the F-35B. U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps aircraft launched from Edwards Air Force Base, Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Naval Air Station Point Mugu, and Nellis AFB, Nevada.
The five aircraft types in the video are representative of the entire U.S. fighter force. The F-15 represents both F-15C/Ds and F-15Es, while the F/A-18F Navy Super Hornet represents current Navy F/A-18C Hornets, Marine Corps -C and -D models, and Navy -E/F Super Hornets. The only combat jets not represented are the A-10 Warthog, EA-18G Growler, and AV-8B Harrier. (Technically none of them are actually fighters.)